Residents split over proposed traffic-management plan
Pedestrian safety at odds with traffic-displacement concerns
A proposed traffic management plan for the Sligo Park Hills and Ritchie Avenue communities received mixed reviews from Takoma Park and Silver Spring residents testifying at a joint Montgomery County and Takoma Park public hearing held in the city last week.
The recommendations, submitted by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, would seek to eliminate dangerous and speedy cut-through traffic using access restriction for some streets during certain hours and prohibiting turns onto others along Hilltop and Park Valley roads, Sligo Creek Parkway and Ritchie and Geneva avenues. Opponents of the plan argued at the Feb. 24 hearing that the changes will displace traffic onto surrounding streets and increase congestion. Supporters maintained that travel time would only increase slightly and the safety benefits would be worthwhile.
Giuseppe Cimmino, who lives with his wife and two children on Hilltop Road, testified that the lack of sidewalks on Hilltop and high volume of cut-through traffic during peak rush hours makes each morning walk to school a dicey ordeal.
"I have witnessed an automobile overturn in front of our house; one of our animals was run over on Hilltop Road," he said, citing a recent county traffic study that tallied more than 178 cars on Hilltop during the morning rush hour, 60 percent of which had tags identifying them as non-local drivers. "We are asking for weekday, morning rush-hour restrictions in one direction and weekday evening rush-hour restrictions in the other direction. There will be an inconvenience, however; like public roads shared by all, this will be an inconvenience shared by all."
Troy Jacobs, who lives on Flower Avenue, sympathized with the safety concerns of the plan's supporters, but felt that diverted traffic could end up congesting his own neighborhood. If anything, larger roads like Flower should be put before smaller residential streets for improvements, he said.
"We're not necessarily in complete agreement as to how to resolve these issues [such as] the issue of diversion, and certainly being on Flower Avenue we think about this a lot," he said, mentioning a 2003 study by the State Highway Administration recommending improvements to Flower Avenue that was not acted upon. "I feel like in some ways it's putting the horse before the cart to consider the impact on some of these smaller roads when we haven't actually dealt with the issues on these larger roads."
Just as Cimmino and Jacobs addressed the standing-room-only crowd with calm voices and reasonable arguments, a handful of speakers opted to use more combative tones in arguing for or against the plan.
Ellen Zavian, who lives on Sherman Avenue outside of the study areas, used her time to harshly criticize the county study, saying it was poorly done and even yelling at the assembled supporters of the plan's recommendations, which she says will do nothing to alleviate similar problems on Sherman Avenue.
"We will be impacted by moving your traffic over to us, and your neighborhood is no more important, your kids are no important and your convenience is no more important [than our own]," she said while also berating county transportation planners for ignoring the problems at the junction of Ethan Allen and Carroll avenues nearer her street. "I'm a professor; I give you a failing grade."
On the other side, Sligo Park Hills resident Sean Gibbons testified that he was nearly hit by a speeding car while walking his dog at 7 a.m. Speaking to opponents of the recommendations, Gibbons said that if the changes were not made, he would willingly take matters into his own hands.
"The role of government fundamentally is one thing; to ensure the safety of its citizens. ... I can assure you, the government is not doing a hell of a good job in my neighborhood," he said. "If you guys drive through my neighborhood in the early morning hours and I perceive you to be a threat, I'm going to start walking around with a rock in my hand."
Khursheed Bilgrami, a spokesman for the county's transportation department's traffic engineering division, clarified after the hearing that, while testimonies seem tied in terms of for and against at this point, the department will accept testimonies up until 5 p.m. March 10. After that deadline, Bilgrami will send the final record to Diane Schwartz Jones, an assistant administrator to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) who will hand down the final decision on the proposed changes within 30 days, Bilgrami said.
The proposed county traffic-management plan includes the following changes to the Sligo Park Hills and Ritchie Avenue neighborhoods for traffic Monday through Friday only:
-"Do not enter" signs from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Hilltop Road and Geneva Avenue and at Park Valley Road and Sligo Creek Parkway (westbound).
-"Do not enter" signs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Hilltop and Mississippi Avenue and at Sligo Creek Parkway and Park Valley Road (southbound).
-"No left turn" sign from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Sligo Creek Parkway (northbound direction on southern leg) and Park Valley Road.
-"No right turn" sign from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 .m. at Sligo Creek Parkway (southbound direction on northern leg) and Park Valley Road.
-"No right turn" sign from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Maple Avenue (westbound direction on eastern leg) at Ritchie Avenue.